Summary of Fluxus
Fluxus was a loosely organized group of artists that spanned the globe, but had an especially strong presence in New York City. George Maciunas is historically considered the primary founder and organizer of the movement, who described Fluxus as, "a fusion of Spike Jones, gags, games, Vaudeville, Cage and Duchamp." Like the Futurists and Dadaists before them, Fluxus artists did not agree with the authority of museums to determine the value of art, nor did they believe that one must be educated to view and understand a piece of art. Fluxus not only wanted art to be available to the masses, they also wanted everyone to produce art all the time. It is often difficult to define Fluxus, as many Fluxus artists claim that the act of defining the movement is, in fact, too limiting and reductive.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Unlike previous artistic movements, Fluxus sought to change the history of the world, not just the history of art. The persistent goal of most Fluxus artists was to destroy any boundary between art and life. George Maciunas especially wanted to, "purge the world of bourgeoisie sickness...." He stated that Fluxus was "anti-art," in order to underscore the revolutionary mode of thinking about the practice and process of art.
- A central Fluxus tenet was to dismiss and mock the elitist world of "high art" and to find any way possible to bring art to the masses, much in keeping with the social climate of the 1960s. Fluxus artists used humor to express their intent and, along with Dada, Fluxus was one of the few art movements to use humor throughout history. Despite their playful attitude, Fluxus artists were serious about their desire to change the balance of power in the art world. Their irreverence for "high art" had an impact on the perceived authority of the museum to determine what, and who, constituted "art."
- Fluxus art involved the viewer, relying on the element of chance to shape the ultimate outcome of the piece. The use of chance was also employed by Dada, Marcel Duchamp, and other performance art of the time, such as Happenings. Fluxus artists were most heavily influenced by the ideas of John Cage, who believed that one should embark on a piece without having a conception of the eventual end. It was the process of creating that was important, not the finished product.
Do Not Miss
Artworks and Artists of Fluxus
Cut Piece (1964-66)
Cut Piece puts the artist at the mercy of the audience: Ono invited the audience to cut away her clothing as she sat completely still and expressionless on stage. The interaction between artist and viewer is unequivocally intimate, as the viewer completely invades the personal space of the artist, literally cutting away the boundary between the self and the other. Control is literally in the hands of the audience member who holds the scissors, and the outcome of the piece changed each time it was performed. This particular piece likely influenced Marina Abramovic's Rhythm O, though Abramovic took this concept even further, presenting the audience with items to use on her body as they wished, including a knife and a loaded gun, which one audience member pointed at her head.
Optimistic Box #3 - So much the better if you can't play chess (you won't imitate Marcel Duchamp) (1969)
Optimistic Box #3 is an actual fold-up chess set similar to Dada readymades but in this instance the viewer is invited to interact with the artwork. In order to see the entire text, one has to open the box to continue reading. The interior verse is a tip of the hat to Marcel Duchamp, the artist who conceived the readymades. While this piece is an object and not a performance, it still incorporates the Fluxus ideals; nonsensical humor and a lack of boundary between the art and the viewer. The significance of this piece is in its insistence that the viewer interact with it, unlike traditional art objects in a museum context in which touching is forbidden.
Total Art Matchbox (1966)
The piece is a box of matches with "directions" printed on the cover stating, "USE THESE MATCHES TO DESTROY ALL ART - MUSEUMS ART LIBRARY'S - READY-MADES - POP-ART AND AS I BEN SIGNED EVERYTHING WORK OF ART - BURN - ANYTHING - KEEP LAST MATCH FOR THIS MATCH -" This piece literally proclaims the Fluxus belief in anti-art and is one of many "editions" manufactured. Often Fluxus artists would produce a large number of identical pieces to deliberately devalue the object. It can be assumed that many of these boxes were burned as per the instructions on the cover, the involvement of the viewer completing the piece.
Matchbox and matches
Zen for Film (1964-65)
Zen for Film is an example of another Fluxus medium. It is an eight-minute film showing nothing but a white screen with occasional scratches and graininess flickering across the viewers' field of vision. Even though it is a film, it follows the general consistency of Fluxus art, which is usually simple, ironic, and succinct. Just as Cage used silence as part of his musical compositions, Paik is using an absence of imagery as the work of art. It has a distinct Zen sensibility, as it encourages meditative interiority, as opposed to active involvement.
Licking Piece (1964)
The sly directions for Patterson's Licking Piece state, "cover shapely female with whipped cream, lick, topping of chopped nuts and cherries is optional." As in Ono's Cut Piece, again the boundary between viewer and artwork is removed. Here the frisson of sexual tension is made nearly grotesquely apparent (the act of licking, the specifics that it be a "shapely female"). It is not the artist who is made vulnerable, it is his "shapely female" he puts in a fairly uncomfortable position. The piece was performed on several occasions, touching on the subjects of the erotic, objectification, and misogyny.
"Shapely female" and whipped cream
Make a Salad (1962)
In Make a Salad the participants are instructed to make a salad. The act of creation as the focus of the work, and the repetitive, nearly meditative actions of the participants, mark this piece as distinctly drawing from the more Zen-influenced aspects of Fluxus practice. The piece has a vital auditory component: the noise made by the chopping of vegetables and the rustling of lettuce leaves is to be considered as musical and beautiful as if one was listening to actual instruments performing a symphony, a notion coming directly from composer John Cage.
Vegetables, knives, bowls
Beginnings of Fluxus
Fluxus was an avant-garde art movement that emerged in the late 1950s as a group of artists who had become disenchanted with the elitist attitude they perceived in the art world at the time. These artists looked to Futurists and Dadaists for inspiration, focusing especially on performance aspects of the movements. The Dadaist use of humor in art was also definitive in the formation of the Fluxus ethos. The two most dominant forces on Fluxus artists were Marcel Duchamp and John Cage, who championed the use of everyday objects and the element of chance in art, which became the fundamental attitude and practice of all Fluxus artists.
The early phase of Fluxus, often called Proto-Fluxus, began in 1959 when a group of artists who had met in Cage's class at The New School in New York banded together to form the New York Audio Visual Group. This group provided venues for experimental and performance art. Al Hansen, Dick Higgins and Jackson Mac Low were associated with this group, and would all be part of Fluxus. George Maciunas, often credited as the driving force behind what is otherwise a rather inchoate movement, would often be in the audience at the performance venues. Maciunas is credited with naming the group Fluxus, which means "to flow." The first Fluxus event was organized by Maciunas at the AG Gallery in New York in 1961, where he was co-owner. The event was called Bread & AG, and consisted of readings by poet Frank Kuenstler. That was the first in a series of performances that were staged that year at AG Gallery.
Fluxus: Concepts, Styles, and Trends
George Maciunas had strong opinions he frequently and forcefully expressed, often leading to contention between himself and other Fluxus artists. Maciunas articulated his beliefs in Fluxus manifestos, one being that fine art, "at least its institutional forms," should be, "totally eliminated." Other Fluxus artists such as Jackson Mac Low did not agree, once writing, "...I would not want to eliminate museums (I like museums)."
Maciunas was a bit of a volatile leader; he would indiscriminately expel individuals from Fluxus according to his whims and had no qualms about dropping artists for the most petty of disagreements. In 1963, Maciunas removed Jackson Mac Low from the Fluxus group, and the following year, expelled Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and Nam June Paik.
Essentially, while a group of artists who were all considered Fluxus existed, they did not all agree to the same ideals and each viewed Fluxus in a different way. As filmmaker George Brecht put it, "In Fluxus there has never been any attempt to agree on aims or methods; individuals with something unnamable in common have simply coalesced to publish and perform their work."
Fluxus events included audience participation as a way of involving the public in the making of art. Such was the 1970 Fluxfest Presentation of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, where Maciunas made paper masks of John Lennon and Yoko Ono for the audience to wear. With this act, Maciunas shifted the role of the viewer from observer to performer .The use of the audience as the focus of the piece was a logical extension of his idea that, "anything can substitute for art and anyone can do it...the value of art-amusement must be lowered by making it unlimited, mass-produced, obtainable by all and eventually produced by all."
Although Fluxus is mainly known for performances and organized events, Fluxus artists also created more plastic forms of art, such as boxes filled with various items (often called Fluxkits), prints, and Fluxus films. Sometimes these works were not signed, as per Maciunas' belief that the ego of the artist should be removed from the artwork, meaning all pieces should be signed as simply, "Fluxus."
Fluxus and Zen
Zen is a Japanese Buddhist philosophy that focuses on meditation and the importance of the present moment. No single moment is to be more important than another in life. Zen had a powerful impact on John Cage who thought that art should be concerned with equivalency of values instead of elevating artistic experiences from everyday experiences - "in this way art becomes important as a means to make one aware of one's actual environment." This comes directly from Buddhist teachings on the importance of being aware of every moment and present in every moment in life.
Fluxus artists sought to apply that philosophy to art. This idea comes from Cage's classes at the New School where some artists followed along these lines in their work related to Fluxus. Besides wanting to challenge the elitist art institutions, the other side of Fluxus was to reach a kind of enlightened state that involved art so much that art and life would meld into one, and there would be no distinction between them. Although Maciunas once stated that Fluxus was, "more like Zen than Dada." Maciunas himself was less concerned with the Zen aspect of things and more concerned with a political, nonsensical, and anti-art stance.
Later Developments - After Fluxus
Fluxus arguably came to an end with the death of Maciunas in 1978. A "Fluxfuneral" was held, as had been requested by Maciunas, and put together by Geoffrey Hendricks, where several Fluxus artists performed. Afterwards there was a "Fluxfeast and Wake," where, in typical Fluxus fashion, all food was black, white or purple. This was the last major Fluxus event, although smaller episodes are occasionally held, even today.
The influence of Fluxus resonates throughout the arts particularly with later incarnations of Performance art, Land art, and Graffiti and Street art, and those artists who deliberately work outside established museum systems. An artist like Banksy is a good example of the continuation of the Fluxus philosophy.